Saturday, 11 August 2012

Indian navy to buy 56 utility helicopters for $1bn

India has set the ball rolling for another mega defence deal, worth close to $1 billion, for the acquisition of 56 naval utility helicopters customized for surveillance, anti-submarine warfare, anti-terror, electronic intelligence gathering and search and rescue operations.

The armed forces are looking to induct as many as 900 helicopters in the coming decade, including 384 light-utility and observation, 90 naval multi-role, 65 light combat, 22 heavy-duty attack, 139 medium-lift and 15 heavy-lift, among others, as was first reported by TOI earlier.

The new tender or RFP (request for proposal) for the 56 naval helicopters was issued to all top global aviation majors — ranging from Boeing, Bell and Sikorsky to Kamov, Eurocopter and AgustaWestland — last week.

"The naval utility helicopter are planned for induction from 2016 (onwards)," said Navy chief Admiral Nirmal Verma. As per the RFP, the project involves induction of the 56 choppers, three simulators, 28 spare engines and associated equipment within eight years of the inking of the contract.

The twin-engine helicopters, with a 4,500-kg maximum "all up" weight and capable of operating from warship decks, will be armed with 70mm rocket launchers and 12.7mm guns as well as lightweight torpedoes and depth charges.

With a "modern airframe design, proven fuel-efficient engines and fully-integrated advanced avionics", these new helicopters will replace the existing fleet of Chetaks inducted over three decades ago.

This is Navy's second major "rotary wing" project. The first is for around 90 multi-role helicopters in the 9 to12.5-tonne class, with potent combat capabilities as well as customized for amphibious assaults and commando operations, at a cost of over $2.5 billion to replace ageing Sea King helicopters.

But the first contract for 16 such multi-role helicopters — to be followed by the main one for over 75 choppers — has run into some trouble. European NH Industries, which deployed its NH-90 helicopters for the extensive field trials, has filed a complaint against the other contender, the American Sikorsky-70B.

"Both met the NSQRs (naval staff qualitative requirements) after the trials last year but the complaint has delayed the opening of commercial bids. It is being examined," said an official.

Another big project facing similar problems is the one for 197 light helicopters for over Rs 3,000 crore, with Russian Kamov Ka-226T pitted against Eurocopter AS 550 C3 Fennec after the technical evaluation.

Acquisition of these 197 helicopters is to be followed by the indigenous manufacture of 187 similar ones by Hindustan Aeronautics to replace the ageing Cheetah and Chetak fleets of Army and IAF.

The second contract for 71 more Russian medium-lift and weaponized Mi-17 V5 helicopters for around $1 billion, 59 for IAF and 12 for BSF, is, however, going ahead. This comes after deliveries of the first 80 Mi-17 V5s to IAF, under a $1.34-billion deal inked in 2008, began last September.

Asian Defence News

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